Huck Cheever, man. A movie can be uneven, unoriginal and unexciting, but if it’s got a lead character that wins you over, you’ll forgive most of its flaws. As played by Eric Bana, Huck Cheever is such a character. Right from the start, I could feel that “Lucky You” wasn’t gonna be great, it felt shaky and unsure of what it wanted to be. But just as soon, I got a kick out of this Huck fella. And since he’s in nearly every scene, he got me through the bumpy whole of the picture smoothly enough.
Just from his general demeanor and appearance, I liked this guy. With his semi-mullet, leather jacket and motorcycle, Huck is kind of an old-fashioned bad boy. The story is set in 2003, but this bloke might as well have come out of the 1980s, if not the 1970s. The opening has him bargaining with a pawnshop owner, instantly coming off as smart, charming yet a little bit desperate. Through the film, this first impression will be confirmed repeatedly. Here’s a man who’s clearly thoughtful and alert, who knows how to read people and talk them into anything, but who’s ultimately not nearly as confident as he seems. He’s always bluffing, basically.
Another thing I liked a lot is how filmmaker Curtis Hanson takes the time to get us acquainted with the guy, not with exposition or rushed plot points, but just by having us hang out with him as he does his thing, wandering around the Las Vegas casinos he practically calls home, where everyone knows his name and his game. For you see, Huck’s a poker player. Not just someone who plays poker when he’s not working or leading his life; poker is his work, poker is his life. The bulk of the movie is about him trying to raise the $10,000 he needs to enter the World Series of Poker, which isn’t that easy, especially since he has a tendency to blast away his winnings. He knows how to “turn nothing into something”, but he doesn’t know when to quit… Hence, he literally wins and loses the requisite ten grand 4 or 5 times before actually buying a seat at the tournament!
Hanson’s deft, easygoing storytelling is also evident in the way Robert Duvall‘s L.C. is introduced. He’s an old-timer who’s won the World Series of Poker twice and who’s long been Huck’s nemesis, the one chap he’s never been able to beat. I love the reveal of L.C., and the arc Huck and him go through is incredible, in a good way: from pennies, nickels and dimes on the kitchen table to competing for 2.5 millions in the World Series finals? Only in the movies!
Less skilful is the way the romance is handled. When Huck meets-cute Drew Barrymore‘s lounge singer, we suddenly find ourselves fully in rom-com land, with all the clichés and contrivances that come with the territory. There is one element that’s rather unusual, though. As a compulsive gambler, Huck’ll not only run off after getting it on with the girl to go play poker, he’s bastardly enough to steal from her purse to do so. This raises the stakes some, but the love story quickly reverts to being predictable and anticlimactic. Then again, Bana’s got the charisma and Barrymore is as lovely as ever, so they mostly make it work.
In the end, “Lucky You”, which also features Robert Downey, Jr. and Horatio Sanz (who are only one-scene wonders, but what scenes!), isn’t quite a Big Slick. Still, it’s a pleasant, witty enough little flick with an engaging protagonist. Huck Cheever, man.